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Where did it come from? How did it become such an important part of our courtship system? And where are we today? According to cultural historian Beth Bailey, the word date was probably originally used as a lower-class slang word for booking an appointment with a prostitute. However, by the turn of the 20th century we find the word being used to describe lower-class men and women going out socially to public dances, parties and other meeting places, primarily in urban centers where women had to share small apartments and did not have spacious front parlors in their homes to which to invite men to call.
With the rise of the entertainment culture, with its movie houses and dance halls and their universal appeal across class lines, dating quickly moved up the socio-economic ladder to include middle- and upper-class men and women, as well as the new urbanites. When one tries to understand how dating has changed over time, and most importantly, how we arrived at the system of courtship and dating we have today, one must realize the monumental cultural shift that occurred during the s, primarily due to World War II.
The courtship experience and ideals of those who grew up before World War II were profoundly different from those of teenagers in the postwar years, and the differences created much intergenerational conflict. In the late s, Margaret Mead, in describing this pre-war dating system, argued that dating was not about sex or marriage.
Insociologist Willard Waller published a study in the American Sociology Review in which he gives this competitive dating system a name, which he argued had been in place since the early s: The Campus Rating Complex. College men will think, She must be attractive if she can rate all that attention.
The article went on to say that if, for some reason, you did not have a date on a particular night, you should keep the lights off in your dorm room so no one would know you were home. It was not earned directly through talent, looks, personality or importance and involvement in organizations, but by the way these attributes translated into the and frequency of dates. You had to rate in order to date, to date in order to rate. By successfully maintaining this cycle, you became popular. To stay popular, you competed.
There was no end: popularity was a deceptive goal. So, that is the system in place prior to World War II. After World War II the norms within the dating system began to change. By the late s and early s demographic realities began to sink in: There was a shortage of men. After World War II, due in part to the fact thatmen never came home, for the first time in the United States, women outed men. In JuneNew York Times Magazine predictedwomen who wanted to marry would have to live alone. Due primarily to this scarcity of men, two things happened in the United States after World War II pertaining to marriage: Marriage rates climbed, and the average age of those marrying went down.
However, A brief history of courtship and dating in america part 1 most striking change in postwar courtship and dating was the ever-earlier age at which children and teenagers entered the courtship and dating system. If the average age of first marriages was dropping around age 18 for women and 20 for men then the preparation for marriage — the shopping around, if you will — had to begin much earlier than that.
One sociologist wrote in a July New York Times Magazine article that each boy and girl ideally should date 25 to 50 eligible marriage partners before making his or her final decision. By the early s, going steady had acquired a totally different meaning. It was no longer the way a marriageable couple aled their deepening intentions. Instead, going steady was something twelve-year-olds could do, and something most fifteen-year-olds did do. Few steady couples expected to marry each other, but for the duration of the relationship, acted as if they were married. Going steady had become a sort of play-marriage, A brief history of courtship and dating in america part 1 mimicry of actual marriage.
So, during the s, going steady or going out had completely supplanted the former dating system based on popularity. And this new system had its own set of rules and customs. Additionally, the relationships were exclusive: Neither boy nor girl could date or pay much attention to anyone of the opposite sex. Obviously, most of these steady relationships did not result in marriage, oftentimes not lasting more than a few days or a few weeks. Many cultural commentators have argued that this going steady system has greatly contributed to our modern culture of divorce.
Each party must return or negotiate custody of jackets, T-shirts, jewelry, CDs, etc. And what about friends? I have known college couples, and even high school couples, to buy a pet together — goldfish, hamsters, etc. So where are we today? Or do we have a combination of the two? Do I date one person at a time or several people?
How do I talk to the other person about our relationship — in modern language?
When do we have the DTR defining the relationship talk? And what about sex? What qualifies as sex anymore — only intercourse? Out of necessity, this cultural confusion has forced Christians to re-evaluate from where we are taking our cues — from the secular culture at-large or from a wise contemporary application of what is taught in Scripture. In many Christian communities there seems to be movement toward rediscovering, or creating anew, some sort of script that conforms itself to the way God created man and woman to relate to each other.
New types of courtship systems where family, friends and church communities are involved in the relationship provide support and godly counsel to individuals in a relationship. Realizing how spiritually, psychologically and physically destructive sexual relations are outside of the bond and vow of marriage, many teens and young adults, both men and women, are committing or re-committing themselves to chastity. These are all encouraging s. It was my aim in these articles briefly to explain from where our modern courtship and dating practices have come.
I hope this historical review has helped you to understand the courtship practices you have inherited, and can assist you in living more wisely, which is the goal of all Christians. Note: If this discussion has piqued your interest and you would like to delve further into the history of courtship and dating, I recommend any of the works by Ken Myers, Beth Bailey, Alan Carlson or Leon Kass cited throughout the article. Ordering information can be found on the web at marshillaudio. Skip Burzumato is the rector of St. He has been in ministry for 16 years, serving in the inner-city of Memphis, Tenn.
He earned degrees from University of Memphis B. Before entering the ministry, he served in the U. Navy and is also a trained musician, having worked as a recording engineer in Memphis, Tenn. Skip has been married to his wife, Stacey, since At the end of the day, is my boyfriend obligated A brief history of courtship and dating in america part 1 obey his parents when he knows what God has spoken over us? Living with boundaries is not easy, but it is necessary because it helps us love the other person without idolizing them, and it allows us to prepare for marriage but not become too emotionally and physically intimate before it.
About Us Meet the Team Menu. March 8, by. Skip Burzumato. Struggling to understand modern dating conventions? Maybe it's because those before us have given us more than one dating system to draw from. Copyright Skip Burzumato. All rights reserved.
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Dating Culture in the United States